Extreme parenting: Slow and steady


Claire Iver
Focus on Adoption magazine
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I’ve learned that learning itself takes time

These lessons are all starting to dovetail, and my stories are becoming self-referential. That’s fitting, though, because I’ve learned that learning itself takes time. Change up any part of the original lesson and the learning seems to disappear. Often, we have to come at the same problem a few different ways until there’s evidence of a pattern. That’s when it sticks.

My husband and I had to train ourselves out of thoughts like, “You know better than that.” After all, if the child in question had the maturity to address such a statement, I imagine it would sound something like this:
“Maybe if I’d had time to weigh all of my competing impulses, my immature child brain may not have made that choice, but truly, in the moment, I DID NOT KNOW BETTER.”

Never give up, no matter how long it takes

A friend of my mother’s tells the story of her adopted child who continually found herself in trouble with the law. Her adoptive father lovingly walked her through each of her transgressions, bailed her out of jail when necessary, and picked her up out of difficult and dangerous situations whenever she needed it. He never gave up on her.

In her mid-twenties, she started to get it. She felt his love and saw her worth in his eyes. She went on in school, eventually earned a PhD, and is now a sociology professor at a Canadian university.
Slow and steady indeed.

Natural consequences that work

I love natural consequences. I don’t find punishment works that well, and it seems to tear away at the attachment we’re building.

We don’t use threats or bribes with our children (at least, not very often) and we always follow through on consequences once they’ve been stated. I’ll also lay out the natural consequence in a way that quickly shows how the undesirable action s a path to something they really don’t want. Here are some examples:

  • If you hit your friends, they won’t want you around and you won’t be invited to join them for fun things like play dates and birthday parties.
  • If you hit your brother, I worry you might hit your friends and hurt them. I don’t want your friends to be hurt, and neither do they or their parents. You can’t go visit your friends until I trust that you know that hitting is not OK.
  • If you keep screaming at me, I will move into another room because I don’t like it and I don’t think it’s good for me.
  • If you don’t clean your room, I won’t want to take you to the toy store with your birthday money.
  • If you lose control and yell at me, I can’t listen to what you say. There’s no point in wasting your time until you’re finished with the tantrum.

Patience and love

We know our job is building attachment. We know that our kids will be more inclined to believe that what we think or say matters to them if they love us.

The learning process is slow and frustrating and may be invisible in the moment. All I can tell you for certain is that as gradual as that process feels, things are changing.

These are formative years, and there are so precious few of them. We know our job is to stay focused on our strategies, breathe our way through the challenges, and revel in the rewards. If we raise our kids with love and patience, these years will lay the foundation for their entire lives.

Claire’s 10-year-old son, Adam, was adopted from a Russian orphanage when he was 19 months old. Her second son, Ethan, joined their family from foster care at age seven. In this series, Claire shares the “fast and furious learning” she and her family experienced when they adopted an older child.

Read more in the Extreme Parenting series.

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